Given abuse reforms, expert says bishops have ‘no excuse’ for failure

Hans Zollner Polish Summit

Title: Given abuse reforms, expert says bishops have ‘no excuse’ for failure

Author: Elise Ann Allen

Publisher: Crux
Date: 20SEP2021

ROME – Ahead of a three-day summit on child protection taking place in Poland against the backdrop of the country’s recent abuse scandals, perhaps Catholicism’s leading expert has said progress is being made and that new legal tools drafted over the past few years mean bishops now have “no excuse” for failure.Speaking to Crux, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner said that while much still needs to be done in terms of awareness and safeguarding, on a general level, people in the Church now are taking the problem of clerical sexual abuse “much more seriously.”

Zollner, head of the Gregorian University’s newly minted “Institute of Anthropology [and] Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care” and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), pointed to several steps taken by Pope Francis in recent years to get everyone on the same page regarding the urgency of both the problem of clerical abuse and the proper handling of cases that arise.

These steps include new legislation for Vatican City passed in May 2019 requiring all clerics and members of religious orders to report abuse cases to Church authorities, including abuse committed by bishops or cardinals, as well as the pope’s decision in December 2019 to abolish the pontifical secret in clerical abuse cases.

Zollner also pointed to the publication in May 2020 of the Vatican’s vademecum, or handbook, on handling abuse cases, which outlined the procedures to follow for when an ordained minister is accused of abusing a minor.

Given all these steps, “the bishops know what they are supposed to do, and they have the handbook to do that, so they have no excuse anymore,” Zollner said, adding that the lifting of the pontifical secret specifically “gives no excuse whatsoever to deny collaboration with state authorities.”

Zollner spoke to Crux ahead of a workshop on “Safeguarding God’s Children” being held in Warsaw from Sept. 19-22, which is being organized by the Polish Bishops Conference and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in collaboration with the St. Joseph Foundation.

The workshop is in part designed to help increase awareness about the problem of clerical abuse throughout central and eastern Europe, and it will also inform bishops of what their current legal responsibilities are, and the proper procedures to follow for when allegations of abuse arise.

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